The Boston Bruins almost had to play the Presidents’ Trophy-winning Washington Capitals in the first round of the 2017 Stanley Cup playoffs.
But the B’s caught a break when the Toronto Maple Leafs lost 3-2 to the Columbus Blue Jackets on Sunday, resulting in Boston finishing third in the Atlantic Division and playing the Ottawa Senators in Round 1.
The Senators owned the Bruins during the regular season, winning all four games. Still, it’s a more winnable matchup for Boston than one with Washington.
Will Ottawa’s success in this rivalry carry into the playoffs? Check out our preview of Bruins-Sens.
The glaring observation here is special teams. The Bruins are a much better team shorthanded and with the man advantage. Boston has been one of the better penalty-killing teams all season, which also has been the case over the last few years with Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron and Zdeno Chara serving as the pillars of the unit.
The Bruins’ power play has been more inconsistent, but it’s been effective of late. The B’s have scored on the power play in 12 of their last 19 games, including a total of 14 goals during that span. The Senators’ 1-3-1 neutral-zone trap doesn’t produce many goals for either team in 5-on-5 action, which could make special teams even more important than normal for the Bruins.
Key For Bruins: Possess puck, attack with skill
The Bruins are a much better puck-possession team, as evidenced by their 54.72 Corsi For percentage at 5-on-5, which was good for second-best in the league. The Sens ranked 23rd with a 48.44 percent mark, the worst of any playoff team. Ottawa’s 1-3-1 scheme is very conservative, which hurts the Sens’ ability to consistently possess the puck. The Senators are more than willing to give up the puck and then counter attack after a neutral-zone turnover.
Ceding possession at this rate isn’t a sound strategy against a B’s team shooting more than 10 percent since Bruce Cassidy took over as interim head coach in early February. Boston’s scoring depth has improved under Cassidy, and it finished with nine double-digit goal scorers. No player has tallied more points or scored more goals since Jan. 1 than Brad Marchand, while David Pastrnak broke out with a career-high 34 goals.
The Bruins scored 3-plus goals in 15 of their last 24 games, and their blue line has contributed more to the attack under Cassidy. This improvement must continue into Round 1 for the B’s to advance.
Key For Senators: Craig Anderson must be a wall
If the Senators continue to give up possession against a team that has more skill and plays a faster game, starting goalie Craig Anderson probably won’t have much room for error. But, to his credit, Anderson shut down the Bruins this season, going 4-0-0 with a .946 save percentage. He gave up just six total goals in those four games. The Bruins must create more traffic in front of his net and try to weaken his confidence with early goals.
Prediction: Bruins in 7
These teams know each other pretty well. The last two meetings were decided by one goal, and it wouldn’t be surprising if that’s the case throughout this series. Ottawa’s style of play doesn’t result in many goals for either team, which is why goaltending and special teams probably will be the biggest factors in the series. Injuries to Torey Krug and Brandon Carlo could test the depth of the Bruins blue line, forcing veterans such as Zdeno Chara, Adam McQuaid and Kevan Miller to play more minutes.
Still, the Bruins have more offensive skill, a slightly better goaltender and more playoff experience than the Senators. The lack of home ice shouldn’t be a huge issue for Boston, as it went 21-14-6 away from TD Garden and the Canadian Tire Centre in Ottawa isn’t exactly a tough place to play.
The Bruins should win this series, but it likely will be a tightly contested one that goes the distance.
Thumbnail photo via Bob DeChiara/USA TODAY Sports Images